WHEN it emerged last year that American-style beauty pageants for children as young as six were coming to Scotland, campaigners complained about the sexualisation of childhood and promotion of negative body image among under-12s.

Seven months later, the organisers are defending more than false eyelashes and fake tan as it emerges that Modelscotland is at the centre of a probe into its charity donations.

The Herald's own investigation has uncovered discrepancies stretching from Kentucky to Essex.

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The trail began with a phone call from a mother who said she had "been stonewalled" in her efforts to learn what had become of the cash her daughter had raised for good causes when she entered last year's Miss Little Scotland pageant.

Four mothers in total have come forward, all saying that Modelscotland insisted the money be handed over in cash - not cheques - on the morning of the competition. One said her daughter raised £915 in donations from family and friends.

At the time, 11 charities were named as beneficiaries but gradually suspicions have mounted - culminating in a phone call to Police Scotland.

Only two of the 11 charities contacted by the Herald confirmed they had received donations from Modelscotland last summer.

The British Heart Foundation received £25 in June and a spokeswoman for Yorkhill Children's Foundation said they received "a similar sum".

A spokeswoman for the NSPCC said its lawyers were aware of an ongoing police investigation and declined to comment.

The Herald previously reported that the charity had accepted a £100 donation, but Modelscotland claimed they also gifted £253.87 in cash. No-one at the NSPCC confirmed this.

However, the Salvation Army, Cancer Research, Daisy's Dream, Contact a Family, the Children's Society and Scottish SPCA all said they had never received any cash from Modelscotland.

The Red Cross said it last received a donation of £157.05 from the company in December 2012 and The Herald now understands a sum of £332.87 was donated to the Archie Foundation not by Modelscotland but by a parent whose daughter had raised cash for two of the organisation's events.

One mother, whose daughter raised £300 for Miss Little Scotland, said she became uneasy over the pressure to fundraise.

She told The Herald: "It was just money, money, money.

"She was supposed to attend another 10 events but I didn't want to ask people to donate again when they had only just given us money.

"And it was always cash you had to hand over as well, never cheques. We just didn't want anything more to do with it in the end. Our last pageant was in September."

In a Facebook post dated January 20, Modelscotland dismissed "recent rumours concerning charity funds", adding: "Modelscotland can assure that all funds raised at any of our charity events are always gifted to a number of different charities. Money raised at these events is split evenly between the charities for the sake of fairness.

"We at Modelscotland have written evidence from all of the charities we have donated to in the past year, which in total has been over £6000."

The company claimed that the rumours stemmed from a fall-out over the budget for a baby shower being thrown in honour of director Angel Dairo, who is seven months pregnant.

However, when The Herald asked for the written evidence Modelscotland claimed to have, it only threw up further question marks: a letter purporting to thank Modelscotland for its £3850 donation which carried the logo of a Kentucky charity which helps orphans in Kazakhstan. The document was signed off by a "senior community fundraiser" in Nigeria West, and stamped with the charity number of an Essex-based organisation which was dissolved in 2008.

As Nanci Spurlock, of the Motherless Child Foundation in the US, said, their only link to Scotland was "a very kind woman who sends us dozens of hand knit socks" for their Mittens for Akkol project.

The whereabouts of at least £3850 of donations remains a mystery.